Dreary Pro-Homeopathy Piece and Letter

September 4th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, homeopathy | 115 Comments »

The usual tedious stuff in this 1000 word pro-CAM piece in the Guardian today: “CAM is good because medicine is bad”, “CAM is not researched because it doesn’t have big money” (in fact there are plenty of incompetent CAM trials, a bad trial costs as much to perform as a good one), “some authority figures say CAM is good”, and no attempt to address any criticisms except to complain that they are persecutory.

The whining and rhetoric I can cope with; an ignorance about evidence based medicine, so profound that she can’t even get the most basic terminology correct, is fine too (she refers to “random controlled trials” which means nothing, I presume she means “randomised controlled trials”); but she seems to allude to a trial that does not exist, and that is the thing, as usual, that Read the rest of this entry »

Homeopathy Packaging And Flu

September 1st, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, homeopathy | 30 Comments »

With the changes to homeopathy regulations you can look forward to more products like this, for “influenza and influenza-like colds”:


Coldenza is a homeopathic remedy specifically designed to bring fast, effective relief for the symptoms of cold and flu. For best results take Read the rest of this entry »

Newsnight/Sense About Science Malaria & Homeopathy Sting – The Transcripts

September 1st, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, homeopathy | 15 Comments »

 

Sense About Science have very kindly given me the transcripts from their excellent Malaria and homeopathy sting from last month, and have let me stick it up here as a public archive for anyone who’s interested. Some amusing video from Read the rest of this entry »

Homeopathy Spokesperson Has Eccentric Views On Malaria Shocker

July 14th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, homeopathy | 23 Comments »

Just very briefly, I wouldn’t want you to miss Melanie Oxley, spokesperson from the Society of Homeopaths, making her deeply worrying noises about the benefits of homeopathy for malaria at Read the rest of this entry »

Forty years of miracle cures. Now it’s homeopathy’s turn

May 26th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, homeopathy, mail, placebo | 64 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday May 27, 2006
The Guardian

“I hope you get cancer and then look in the mirror.” That’s a pretty representative sample from the Bad Science mailbag last week, so I shan’t be writing about mobile phone masts again until you all calm down. But it’s in the backlash that you can find the truth. This week, some fabulous elderly scientists came out loudly against homeopathy on the NHS. A maelstrom ensued, and critics focused mainly on the failures of modern medicine: the side effects, and the disappointments, as if these problems could somehow be subtracted from medicine and given to alternative therapies as a benefit. In that backlash, you can Read the rest of this entry »

Homeopathy: someone should tell the government that there’s nothing in it

January 5th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, alternative medicine, bad science, homeopathy, references, statistics | 75 Comments »

Homeopathy: someone should tell the government that there’s nothing in it

Ben Goldacre
Saturday December 31, 2005
The Guardian

My first new year’s resolution is to write less about homeopaths, partly because teasing them is starting to bore me, and partly because we’ve won. Yes. Won. I’m talking about huge meta-analyses, summing together vast numbers of little trials, adding all Read the rest of this entry »

Chocolates and homeopathy

April 24th, 2003 by Ben Goldacre in acupuncture, bad science, chocolate, nutritionists | 1 Comment »

Chocolates and homeopathy

Ben Goldacre
Thursday April 24, 2003
The Guardian

New: Talk about Bad science

· I was delighted to see that the government has given £1.3m to the pseudo-scientists marketing alternative therapies such as homeopathy and acupuncture. This money will go towards research projects to determine whether their money-making scams really help people, and whether they should be available on the NHS. I can think of nothing better, though why an industry reported this week to make £130m a year out of the British public can’t be bothered to spend 1% of that on sorting out its own research is another question. And how they plan to help an underfunded NHS, in which GPs can offer only six-minute appointments, get round the fact that people prefer alternative therapists because they are privately employed to spend an hour listening to people talk about themselves without calling it counselling, is another matter.

· What you might not know, because it’s so much less newsworthy, is that the government has given an equal and opposite gift to the noble bad science hunters of the world, having arranged for everyone to have free access to the Cochrane Library online. This is the best single source of reliable evidence about the effects of health care in the world. It is built up from statistical reviews of the available experimental evidence, combining the results from lots of different trials to make one big one, and offers the best chance of getting at the reality of what works and what doesn’t. Being a trouble maker, the first thing I did was go to their site (link below) and look up acupuncture. Oh look, there are 22 studies already on smoking and acupuncture. Hang on: “There is no clear evidence that acupuncture, acupressure, laser therapy or electrostimulation are effective for smoking cessation.”

The Cochrane Library

· Lastly, it was good to see that in these godless times, with church attendance dropping yearly, we have at least managed to maintain the traditional Easter ritual of stories in the news about chocolate being good for you. Speculative laboratory studies about antioxidant flavonoids, and their possible effect on the immune system and bone metabolism, were gaily reported in more places than I could count as if the patient population studies on osteoporosis and coronary heart disease were already in the bag. But if you really think you need more of vitamins A1, B1, B2, C, D, and E, why not skip the chocolates and get your fat arse down to the market to buy some fruit for a change?

Dr Goldacre will be back next week. Please send your favourite Bad Science to: bad.science@guardian.co.uk

Journal Club – “The defining role of structure (including epitaxy) in the plausibility of homeopathy”

January 1st, 2000 by Ben Goldacre in journal club | 9 Comments »

This is part of the Homeopathy journal club project described here:

www.badscience.net/?p=490

doi:10.1016/j.homp.2007.03.009 How to Cite or Link Using DOI (Opens New Window)
Copyright © 2007 Elsevier Ltd All rights reserved. The defining role of structure (including epitaxy) in the plausibility of homeopathy

Manju Lata Rao1, Corresponding Author Contact Information, E-mail The Corresponding Author, Rustum Roy1, 5, Iris R. Bell2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and Richard Hoover1
1The Materials Research Institute, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA
2Department of Family and Community Medicine, The University of Arizona, College of Medicine, Tucson, AZ, USA
3Department of Psychiatry, The University of Arizona, College of Medicine, Tucson, AZ, USA
4Department of Psychology, The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA
5Department of Medicine (Program in Integrative Medicine), The University of Arizona, College of Medicine, Tucson, AZ, USA
6College of Public Health, The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA
Received 20 March 2007; accepted 27 March 2007. Available online 31 July 2007.

Abstract

The key stumbling block to serious consideration of homeopathy is the presumed “implausibility” of biological activity for homeopathic medicines in which the source material is diluted past Avogadro’s number of molecules. Such an argument relies heavily on the assumptions of elementary chemistry (and biochemistry), in which the material composition of a solution, (dilution factors and ligand–receptor interactions), is the essential consideration.

In contrast, materials science focuses on the three-dimensional complex network structure of the condensed phase of water itself, rather than the original solute molecules. The nanoheterogenous structure of water can be determined by interactive phenomena such as epitaxy (the transmission of structural information from the surface of one material to another without the transfer of any matter), temperature–pressure processes during succussion, and formation of colloidal nanobubbles containing gaseous inclusions of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and possibly the remedy source material.

Preliminary data obtained using Raman and Ultra-Violet–Visible (UV–VIS) spectroscopy illustrate the ability to distinguish two different homeopathic medicines (Nux vomica and Natrum muriaticum) from one another and to differentiate, within a given medicine, the 6c, 12c, and 30c potencies. Materials science concepts and experimental tools offer a new approach to contemporary science, for making significant advances in the basic science studies of homeopathic medicines.

Keywords: homeopathy; succussion; materials science; structure of water; epitaxy; nanobubbles

Article Outline

Introduction
Overview
Materials Science Models for homeopathic medicine
Implications of materials science models for basic science research methods in homeopathy
Preliminary studies of homeopathic medicines using Raman and infrared spectroscopy
Method
Results
Conclusions
Acknowledgements
References


Introduction

Overview

The key stumbling block to serious consideration of homeopathy is the alleged “implausibility” of biological activity for homeopathic medicines in which the source material is diluted past Avogadro’s number of molecules (6×1023), because the remedy must be identical to the solvent. Negative studies of homeopathy are self-evidently correct from the skeptics’ perspective, because of this error.1 The implausibility argument leads skeptics to ignore or reject positive evidence from numerous basic science, preclinical, and clinical studies showing effects of homeopathic medicines different from controls, in vitro and in living systems.2 On the other hand, proponents predictably reject the negative and focus on positive studies, often uncertain how to address the black box nature of homeopathic medicines. Both skeptics and proponents of homeopathy have generally overlooked a large body of literature in the materials science field that could help resolve this impasse with systematic data.3

Thoroughly, established materials science concepts and research data render the implausibility hypothesis for homeopathy irrelevant. One example suffices. Diamond is the hardest material in nature and graphite among the softest. Yet they can be inter-converted with zero change of composition in microseconds.

The available studies enable significant hypothesis-driven advances in the rigorous study of the nature of homeopathic medicines. The purpose of this paper is to outline the key aspects of materials science considerations in developing experimental models for understanding homeopathic medicines and to summarize preliminary findings from hypothesis-driven studies in our laboratory on clinically known polychrests such as Nux vomica (Nux vom) and Natrum muriaticum (Nat mur).

Materials Science Models for homeopathic medicine

Chemists and medical scientists largely continue to focus reductionistically on the presence or absence of specific molecular species present in water vapor or liquid water without consideration of the ways in which these species are organized in space. From a chemical perspective, the dilution aspects of remedy preparation are the key issue, because of a lack of source molecules for potencies at or beyond 12c or 24c× (10−24 dilution). Even when chemists focus on water itself, they emphasize the fleeting stability of hydrogen bonding between given water molecules,4 rather than the larger complex structural formations of water or the weaker forces that may favor formation of stable oligomeric and polymeric structures, involving the collective organization of many different water molecules within the condensed liquid phase.

In contrast, materials scientists focus on the organizational network arrangement of the water structures in three-dimensional (3-D) space. In a recent paper, Roy et al.3 presented the detailed technical aspects of the materials science argument concerning ultradilute sols including homeopathic medicines at length. For materials scientists, the succussion aspects of remedy preparation are the key consideration. Temperature and pressure can modify such water structures, leading to nanoheterogeneity of larger structures of water molecule “clusters” within liquid water. Succussion introduces intense turbulence and changes in pressure in any solution,5 as well as leading to the formation of nanobubbles in solution.

In brief, the plausibility argument for homeopathy is that liquid water, the primary solvent for source materials in which homeopathic medicines are made, is itself an anomalous substance and has many very different structures. As part of the natural nanoheterogeneity of water structure per se (as contrasted with its composition or the presence of solute molecules), processes such as epitaxy, pressure changes during succussion, formation of colloidal nanobubbles containing gaseous inclusions of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and possibly the remedy source material, and electromagnetic field effects play a role in altering water structure. Previous work by Elia and Niccoli6 and Rey,7 using different technical methods, respectively, to release heat or light from homeopathic medicines in potency, point to the ability to disrupt what appears to be order or structure in remedy solutions as compared with remedy-free control solvents.

In terms of nanoheterogeneity, water can take on many possible oligomeric and polymeric structures, ie, form complex networks of water molecules in 3-D space, held together by various forces that include not only hydrogen bonds (relatively strong), but also van der Waals forces (much weaker). Even if specific molecules or small molecular complexes leave their places in the network, other water structure complexes can take their places within the network structure itself, thereby maintaining the overall nanostructures within the solution, in part via configurational entropy or electromagnetic forces maintaining organizational stability of the network.8

Notably, research in the field of complex systems and network science has shown that, within a highly complex network, loss or disruption of a given member or node, which is a point of interconnection with other members of the network (eg. a water molecule or small complex of water molecules) does not destroy or significantly disrupt the overall network organization.[9] and [10] With complexity in liquid water as a whole comes the capacity for overall stability that is not possible in the simpler organizational structures of water on which chemists usually focus.

Epitaxy is the transfer of information, not material, from the surface of one material, usually solid, to another, usually liquid11. The substrate (eg. remedy source material) acts as a seed crystal for the formation of the structure in the recipient surface material (eg. network organization of water structures). Semi-conductor manufacturing often utilizes epitaxial growth to generate specific types of microtransistors and integrated circuitry. In addition to the original source material that uniquely contributes to remedy preparation, deliberate additives in homeopathic medicines, such as ethanol, and/or possible contaminants from succussion, such as silicates from glass container walls, may also stabilize the water molecule structures with their own epitaxial capabilities. Thus, epitaxy can interact with temperature–pressure factors to create unique patterns of information without the transfer of material.

In terms of “seeding” formation of informational structures within water, initial empirical observations on homeopathic medicines suggest that the passage of time between the original remedy preparation and the testing procedures can alter experimental findings. In calorimetric and thermoluminescence studies on homeopathic medicines, the time factor contributes to differences in the magnitude and even the direction of the divergence between remedy and control solutions.[4] and [12] Overall, the behavior of homeopathic medicine liquids in terms of their structural properties in the basic science literature exhibits a somewhat unpredictable, self-organizing quality.

As additional data emerge, these lines of research may facilitate advances in understanding the nature and mechanisms of variability in clinical responsivity to homeopathic medicines.[13] and [14] Water is an hub molecule (a highly interconnected and influential molecule) in most of the biochemical reactions in the body.15 In a more speculative but testable vein, seeding informational changes in body water at global and local levels16 of scale could be one way in which homeopathic medicines interface with patients to induce patterns of system-wide and local healing responses.13

Implications of materials science models for basic science research methods in homeopathy

Materials science models for the nature of homeopathic medicines leads to more rational selection of specific methodologies for basic science studies. For example, many earlier studies of homeopathic medicines relied on nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) techniques.[17] and [18] However, NMR spectroscopy provides information on structure of individual atoms in a pure molecule better than on complex networks of molecules. Technically, NMR also requires addition of substances to prepare a liquid for testing. The necessity of adding factors in the process of making observations can introduce unintended contaminants into the measurement process.

In contrast, the light scattering technologies of Raman spectroscopy and Fourier transform (FT) infra-red (IR) spectroscopy permit examination of remedy samples without fixatives or other potential contaminants. Furthermore, Raman and infra-red spectroscopic techniques allow the co-operative nature of structural differences to be detected. Recent studies19 of microscopic dynamics of hydrogen bonded liquids indicate the existence of highly directional H-bonds, whose energy value normally range between not, vert, similar8 and 25 kJ mol−1 induces different chemical–physical properties and different local environments. As the mean lifetime of H-bonds is in the picosecond timescale, such structures are considered as transient species in dynamic equilibrium.

Our recent work has established the importance of the structure of water on its properties,3 we examined the structures of many water and alcohol-based homeopathic remedies. The results show that such materials can be easily distinguished from the pure solvent, and from each other, by the use of UV–VIS (ultraviolet–visual) and Raman spectroscopy, but Fourier transformed infra red (FTIR) spectroscopy proved insensitive to these differences. This opens up a whole new field of endeavor for inorganic materials scientists interested in developing a scientific basis for the efficacy of homeopathic remedies. The assumption of this study is that the joint employment of the two methodologies: optical spectroscopic tools and electronic microscopic tools can furnish a closer reference picture for the comprehension of the structural changes in the liquid phase besides providing an independent understanding on the role of the ‘active ingredient’ in a homeopathic medicine.

Also we believe that our very preliminary efforts in using cryo-scanning electron microscopy (cryo-SEM) and cryo-transmission electron microscopy (cryo-TEM) may eventually possibly provide definitive evidence of the presence, and the effects, of nanobubbles on homeopathic medicine studies.

Preliminary studies of homeopathic medicines using Raman and infrared spectroscopy

Method

A Food and Drug Administration-regulated homeopathic pharmacy (Hahnemann Laboratories, San Rafel, CA) prepared samples of two different test solutions in 16 ounce (450g), clear glass bottles [Type I borosilicate glass] previously annealed at temperatures between 600–700 °C for 15 minutes. One of the solutions, Nat mur (mineral: Sodium Chloride) and the other Nux vom (plant remedy, purchased as tincture from Boiron) were diluted by the standard Hahnemannian techniques in 95% ethanol and succussed: a 30c potency is diluted (1/100)30 or 10−60 from the original material. They were hand-succussed by trained experts [www.hahnemannlabs.com/preparation.html] 30×20=600 times during the manufacturing process. Each bottle was coded with an unique number, the bottles were shipped together by overnight courier in the same box, with temperature sensor.

We have used UV–VIS, IR, FTIR, and Raman spectroscopy for the bulk “liquid” which in most cases is either water or a mixture of water and ethanol (95% ethanol). UV–VIS spectroscopy and Raman spectroscopy proved to be useful tools to investigate the subtle but significant changes in the structural parameters in both water and alcohol based remedies. (For details refer to 20). While other techniques such as freezing point depression; acoustic loss spectroscopy, ellipsometry, viscosity, surface tension, have been explored and will eventually be used in depth to measure entirely different properties, we report here our experience with the major spectroscopic techniques which are widely available.

(a) UV–VIS spectrophotometer: VARIAN, Model CARY 100, run in dual beam mode,
(b) FTIR spectrophotometer: Thermo Nicolet, Model NEXUS 670, run in attenuated total reflection (ATR) mode, and
(c) Raman spectrophotometer: Inphotonics, Model RS2000-3b-785, using an InPhotonics fiber optic immersion probe.

Results

Nearly 200 runs were made to calibrate every step in the experimental configurations and procedures used for the different instruments. In the dual beam UV–VIS, the many experimental options are all tested separately to ensure that any differences within the data obtained on our samples are well above the instrument noise measured in the calibration run data. The data are obtained largely at different times scales by different individuals gave consistent results. We note that at very low signal levels, instrument noise coupled with artificial computer generated sensitivity can produce data that are not reliable. Hence, we operate the instruments in the sensitivity ranges in which we sacrifice some precision for reproducibility. In the Raman spectrometer, careful attention is paid to the positioning of the probe within the sample container, and stray light is eliminated by turning off all the room lights whenever data are being collected. Details of this work are published elsewhere.21

One of the objectives in undertaking this work is to examine evidence which would suggest reliability of physical properties, assuming structural changes in solvents, especially in ultradilute and dilute sols, an excellent example of the class of materials being homeopathic remedies. For our study, we chose to study Natrum muriaticum and Nux vomica, obtained from Hahnemann Laboratories. Both Nat mur and Nux vom are prepared in 95% ethanol. Three types of analyses are presented:

(a) Comparison of specific homeopathic remedies with different potencies [Nat mur 6c, 12c, 30c, and Nux vom 6c, 12c, 30c].
(b) Comparison between two different remedies of the same potency [Nat mur vs Nux vom 6c, 12c, and 30c].
(c) Comparison of the two homeopathic remedies with unsuccussed and succussed plain ethanol.

Figure 1 shows a comparison of Nux vom and Nat mur, 6c, 12c and 30c, showing representative UV-spectra demonstrating the differences between the remedies. In Figure 2 (a), and (b) we show the envelope of differences within a series of 10 preparations of each remedy of Nat mur and Nux vom. The spectra show clear differences in the same potency of an individual remedy for both Nat mur and Nux vom.


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Figure 1. Comparison of two different homeopathic medicines: Natrum muriaticum (NM) and Nux vomica (NV) showing representative UV-spectra demonstrating the differences between the remedies.


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Figure 2. Envelope of differences within a series of 10 preparations supplied of each Homeopathic medicine: Nat mur and Nux vom.

A comparison was also made between the unsuccussed ethanol and the Nat mur and Nux vom samples as shown in Figure 3. The Roy et al paper3, on “structure of water” clearly evidence the role of succussion besides epitaxy and other temperature effects, on the structure of liquids. Under the “normal” succussing procedures, it can be argued that very considerable pressures (of the order of 10 kbar) could be generated as a result of the shaking. Dachille and Roy22 showed that mere grinding in a mortar and pestle gives rise to high pressures up to 20 kbar, and the figures for force per unit area are strongly dependent on the size of the water particles and the velocity of the shaking. By analogy with similar liquids, such as ethanol, there will be many different structures of water formed both by the pressures generated in succussing in some combination with the epitaxy on any additives.


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Figure 3. UV–VIS spectra of: (a) succussed and unsuccussed ethanol, (b) comparative UV–VIS spectra of Nux vom (NV) 6c, 12c, 30c with unsuccussed ethanol, (c) comparative UV–VIS spectra of Nat mur (NM) 6c, 12c, 30c with unsuccussed ethanol.

It may be noted from Figure 3 that the absorption spectra for unsuccussed ethanol is significantly different from: (a) the succussed ethanol and (b) succussed homeopathic remedies, Nat mur and Nux vom. The difference may be attributed to the variation in intra and inter-molecular association of ethanol and water and the generation of both transient and stable nanobubbles. The work of Tyrrell and Attard at Australian National University has proved beyond any doubt that nanobubbles do exist and persist.23 FTIR Spectra (not shown here) from all the samples of Nat mur and Nux vom overlap neatly, clearly signifying that FTIR is not the most sensitive technique for analyzing the subtle structural differences in these types of samples.

Comparison of homeopathic remedies with different potencies using Raman spectroscopy is done on the two sets of homeopathic remedies: Nat mur and Nux vom. From the spectra shown in Figure 4, a clear distinction in the Raman active modes is noted between the two different remedies as well as among the different potencies of the same remedy. A clear distinction is shown in the spectral peaks from the different potencies, peak positions identified as (a), (b), (c), (d) and (e) in the Raman spectra of Nat mur samples show significant structural changes. While the existence of distinct structural changes in Nat mur and Nux vom remedies is clear from the Raman spectra, significant structural changes are also noted in the spectra of Nux vom between the different potencies, 6, 12 and 30c, peak positions are identified as (a), (b), (c), and (d) in Figure 4b. Further, since all the homeopathic medicines were prepared in 95% ethanol, we analyzed the Raman spectra of unsuccussed and succussed ethanol shown in Figure 5. Note that 6c potency of the succussed ethanol show distinct structural variations.


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Figure 4. Comparison of the Raman spectra of the same potencies, 6c, 12c and 30c, for two different homeopathic medicines. The differences in the peaks identified as (a)–(e) is clearly visible in 30c samples of Nat mur and Nux vom, compared to other diluting of the same medicine.


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Figure 5. Raman spectra of plain ethanol and succussed 6c, 12c, 30c. Note that peak positions identified from (a)–(f) are prominent only in 6c sample. Also note that the intensity of peaks in the unsuccussed ethanol is significantly lower than the succussed samples.

Conclusions

Materials science provides a conceptual and empirical foundation for future research on the nature of all the dilute sols including homeopathic medicines in the physical plane. Processes such as epitaxy, temperature-pressure induced changes in water structure, and nanobubble formation offer testable hypotheses for understanding homeopathic medicines. Although hypotheses regarding seemingly unmeasurable “subtle energies”24 and/or macro-entanglement phenomena[25] and [26] may help explain the fuller nature of homeopathic medicines, the available evidence also suggests that homeopathic medicines can exhibit qualitatively and quantitatively different structural properties from those of unsuccussed or succussed solvents. Even in the case of subtle energies, initial findings indicate the possibility of measuring changes in liquid structure properties from the materials science perspective.[27] and [28]

The convergence of data from different experimental models suggests that it is feasible to study the nature of homeopathic medicines using available basic science tools, notably here, Raman spectroscopy and ultraviolet–visual absorption (UV–VIS) spectroscopy. Reproducibility of findings is feasible within the same Raman equipment, but, not across different Raman spectrophotometers from the same manufacturer at different geographic locations, even for materials other than homeopathic medicines. Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) spectroscopy cannot differentiate different homeopathic medicines or different potencies of the same remedy from one another. Transmission and structural electron microscopy are promising options for testing the nanobubble hypothesis.

Finally, the materials science perspective provides a possible translational bridge from the emerging complex systems/network science models for clinical responses to homeopathic treatment[5], [12], [13], [29], [30], [31] and [32] to another level of organizational scale, ie, the network structure of the homeopathic medicines themselves. Given the holistic quality of clinical diagnosis and remedy selection in homeopathy, the articulation of holistic (complex network) rather than reductionistic models for both the clinical healing process and the nature of homeopathic medicines is heuristically appealing.

Acknowledgments

The authors gratefully acknowledge financial support for their research from grants from The Council for Homeopathic Research and Education, Inc.; the Friends of Health Foundation; and NIH/NCCAM K24 AT000057.

Conflicts of interests

Dr Bell serves as a consultant to Standard Homeopathic Company/Hyland’s Inc., which did not provide any direct financial support for the research discussed in this paper.

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30 M.E. Hyland and G.T. Lewith, Oscillatory effects in a homeopathic clinical trial: an explanation using complexity theory, and implications for clinical practice, Homeopathy 91 (3) (2002), pp. 145–149. Abstract | Abstract + References | PDF (133 K) | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

31 L.R. Milgrom, Vitalism, complexity, and the concept of spin, Homeopathy 91 (1) (2002), pp. 26–31. Abstract | Abstract + References | PDF (295 K) | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

32 P. Bellavite, Complexity science and homeopathy: a synthetic overview, Homeopathy 92 (4) (2003), pp. 203–212. SummaryPlus | Full Text + Links | PDF (182 K) | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

Corresponding Author Contact InformationCorrespondence. Manju Lata Rao, Materials Science Research Laboratory, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA.



Homeopathy
Volume 96, Issue 3, July 2007, Pages 175-182
The Memory of Water

Journal Club – “The silica hypothesis for homeopathy: physical chemistry”

January 1st, 2000 by Ben Goldacre in journal club | 1 Comment »

This is part of the Homeopathy journal club project described here:

www.badscience.net/?p=490

doi:10.1016/j.homp.2007.03.005 How to Cite or Link Using DOI (Opens New Window)
Copyright © 2007 Elsevier Ltd All rights reserved. The silica hypothesis for homeopathy: physical chemistry

David J. Anick1, Corresponding Author Contact Information, E-mail The Corresponding Author and John A. Ives2
1Harvard Medical School, McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA, USA
2Samueli Institute for Information Biology, 1700 Diagonal Road, Alexandria, VA, USA
Received 22 February 2007; accepted 27 July 2007. Available online 31 July 2007.

The ‘silica hypothesis’ is one of several frameworks that have been put forward to explain how homeopathic remedies, which often are diluted beyond the point where any of the original substance remains, might still be clinically effective. We describe here what the silica hypothesis says. From a physical chemistry viewpoint, we explore three challenges that the hypothesis would have to meet in order to explain homeopathy: thermodynamic stability of a large number of distinct structures, pattern initiation at low potencies, and pattern maintenance or gradual evolution at higher potencies. We juxtapose current knowledge about silicates with some of the conventional wisdom about homeopathic remedies, to see how well the latter might be a consequence of the former. We explore variants of the hypothesis including some speculations about mechanisms. We outline laboratory experiments that could help to decide it.

Keywords: homeopathy; mechanism; silica; silicate; physical chemistry

Article Outline

Introduction
Brief overview of silicates
Generation and perpetuation of remedy-specific silicates
Experiments to test the silica hypothesis
Conclusion
References


Introduction

Homeopathy has been called the third-most commonly used system of healing on the planet, and for that reason alone it deserves serious attention from the modern scientific community. As the reader of this article undoubtedly knows, many conventional scientists and doctors dismiss homeopathy as physically impossible because of the high dilutions that are commonly used. If a mother tincture (MT) contains a 1 M solution of starting substance (typically the concentration will be considerably smaller, eg sodium chloride in sea water is only 0.5 M), then a 20 ml bottle of its 12c potency has only a 1% chance of containing even a single solute molecule from that MT. For higher potencies like 30c, figures like 10−60 have been given but it is meaningless to call the concentration anything other than ‘zero’. Within conventional chemistry, a solution at concentration zero must be identical with the unprepared solvent (water or ethanol-water). The challenge is to explain or justify how one sample of concentration zero can be different from another sample of concentration zero.

The challenge is greater than scientists working on the physics or chemistry of homeopathy usually admit. There are three physical chemistry puzzles that will have to be solved before homeopathy can be considered to be ‘explained’, and this does not even include explaining how remedies influence biological systems. Generally researchers have focused on finding some measurement or test according to which remedies and controls can be told apart. As significant as a consistent finding of this kind would be, it would not be enough for homeopathy. According to homeopathic theory, the ‘vibration’ of each living thing is different, and remedies of different potencies made from the same MT are subtly different too. Helios pharmacy [www.helios.co.uk] sells 2320 different remedies, each at three to eight (or more) different potencies. It would not be enough to demonstrate that liquid water can exist in a few distinct thermodynamically stable (or meta-stable) forms. Theoretically there should be a nearly infinite variety of ‘waters,’ each one constant over a time scale of at least several minutes. In one minute the H-bond network of liquid water will undergo literally trillions of rearrangements, yet something about the sample has to be recognizably the same at the end as at the start of that minute, and yet different from ‘other remedy’ and from ‘control.’ This is the first challenge: to describe thermodynamically stable parameter(s) that not only show how remedies might differ from controls, but also how thousands of remedies can all be different from each other.

Consider two vials of pure water (in practice doubly deionized distilled water is used) each containing 198 drops (about 4 ml). To the first, two drops of pure water (from the same source) are added, making 200 drops. To the second, two drops of Sepia 29c are added. Each vial is covered and succussed. At the end, one is Sepia 30c, and the other is succussed water. To a homeopath, Sepia 30c and shaken water are as different as night and day. From a scientist’s perspective, the only difference between these samples is the 2-drop ‘seed’ added just before succussion. Other than the seed representing 1% by volume, 99% of the two samples (before succussion) were identical. If Sepia 30c is different from succussed water, then something in that seed causes the whole sample, once succussed, to come out different from what we get if the seed is not first added. And the seed is Sepia 29c, which means it too contains nothing of the starting material, and its only difference from pure water is whatever arose from succussing a seed of Sepia 28c placed in 99 parts pure water.

So this is the second challenge: whatever pattern or information is in a remedy, it must somehow ‘survive’ being mixed into 99 parts of water, and then ‘convert’ the whole sample to that same pattern (or a slightly different pattern) when the whole is succussed. The 198 drops of unprocessed fresh water must never ‘convert’ the two added drops to its ‘ordinary’ pattern.

Finally let us describe the third challenge: generation of the pattern in the first place. The first few dilutions and succussions of the MT may consist principally of diluting and mixing, since these samples would still differ from controls (and each other) by virtue of their solutes. At some stage, however, the solute must act as a seed that initiates a ‘pattern’ in the diluent to which it has been added. Perhaps this starts just as the last molecules are disappearing, around 11c, or perhaps it starts much earlier in the sequence. If it starts earlier, then some low potencies will contain both low-concentration solute and ‘patterned solvent’. It is conceivable that low-concentration solute and ‘incipient pattern’ work together to establish the ‘mature pattern’ during succussion.

Hahnemann made his remedies using glass vials, and the practice of always using glass has continued. Small amounts of silicon dioxide and ions dissolve from the glass walls into aqueous solution, during succussion. The quantities dissolved are larger for soda glass, and smaller for borosilicate glass, but there is always some. The silicates and minerals have usually been ignored as unavoidable contaminants, as something to be minimized. However Milgrom1 demonstrated that differences in T1 relaxation times between remedies and controls could be explained by different levels of dissolved silicates. Demangeat et al2 found higher than expected silica content in remedies prepared in glass vials, and more silica in certain remedies than in succussed controls.

Could vial-derived silicates be the long-sought active ingredients in remedies?

This idea, the silica hypothesis, is the subject of this article. Others have noted a possible role for silica[3], [4] and [5] in homeopathy, but it has not previously been examined at the level of detail given here. After a brief discussion of silicate structures, we will state the hypothesis and explore how well it can meet the three challenges listed above. Consideration of how biological systems might ‘read’ the information in structured silicates is beyond the scope of this article.

Brief overview of silicates

Silicon dioxide SiO2, the principal ingredient in glass, dissolves in water by combining with two H2O molecules to form a molecule of silicic acid, Si(OH)4 (Figure 1a). The solubility of silica depends on many factors. Alexander et al. demonstrated a strong temperature dependence for solubility of amorphous silica and gave a figure of around 0.010% (or 47 ppm Si) at 20 °C.6 Quartz exhibits a much lower solubility than amorphous, and the addition of small amounts of Na2O or other alkali can dramtically increase solubility.7 Two molecules of Si(OH)4 can link up, forming the dimer H6Si2O7 (Fig. 1b) by expelling a single H2O and forming a Si–O–Si bond. The Si–O–Si bond is called a siloxane bond. This reaction is called condensation or polymerization, and its reverse reaction (the splitting of a siloxane bond by H2O to make Si–OH and HO–Si) is called hydrolysis or depolymerization. The dimer can join another Si(OH)4 unit to make a trimer, and so on. The minimum-energy configuration for the gas-phase dimer has the siloxane bond bent at about 140°, but the strain is not great for angles anywhere from 130° to 150°. As a result, chains of polymerized Si(OH)4 can close, making rings, and can branch by allowing up to four siloxane bonds at each Si, creating a virtually infinite variety of polymeric species. Quartz and cristabolite are crystalline forms of (SiO2)x, and glass is an amorphous form that incorporates small quantities of other materials such as sodium or borate. ‘Silica’ is a general term for any bulk material consisting of polymerized, condensed, or crystallized SiO2. Removing one H+ from Si(OH)4 produces the H3SiO4 anion; likewise the dimer can dissociate to H+ and H5Si2O7, and so on for the more complex forms. A ‘silicate’ is any of these anionic forms, generally combined with one or more cations, or a crystalline or amorphous material composed of cations and HzSixOy anions. (Obviously we cannot pretend to do justice in a few sentences to the complexity of silica and silicate chemistry, which accounts for most of the variety of minerals in Earth’s crust.) We will refer to any HzSixOy (charge would be 4x−2y+z) that is held together entirely by Si–O and O–H covalent bonds as a ‘silicate’, regardless of its dissociation state, charge, hydration, or extent of association with cations. Our interest is in the behavior of silicates in aqueous solution, or in ethanol-water solution.


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Fig. 1. (a) Si(OH)4 monomer, optimized at B3LYP/6-311++G(3d,3p) level. (b) Si(OH)3–O–Si(OH)3 dimer, optimized at B3LYP/6-311++G(3d,3p) level.

A notation that has been used to characterize the connectivity of a Si in a silicate is Qx, with the superscript indicating the number of siloxane bonds.8 Thus Q0 is the monomer, Q1Q1 is a notation for the dimer (since each of the Si atoms is involved in a single siloxane bond), and the linear trimer would be Q1Q2Q1. The cyclic trimer is Q23; branched polymers would contain Q3‘s or Q4‘s. Q0 through Q4 have distinct signatures when a sample is examined with 29Si-NMR. The cyclic trimer is also denoted 3R for ‘3-membered ring’, and the 4R, 5R, 6R, and 8R structures are also often seen. Commonly two rings combine into a prism (‘double ring’), for which the notation would be D3R, D4R, etc. The D4R motif or cube is shown in Figure 2a.


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Fig. 2. (a) D4R cube (H’s omitted). (b) Two representations of ACO zeolite showing how the cube of Fig. 2a occurs in a repeating 3-D structure. Siloxane bonds are shown as straight rods even though they actually include an angle. One O atom is implied on each siloxane bond.

Silicate patterns that occur in natural minerals include: monomer (nesocilicates), dimer (sorosilicates), single and double chains (inosilicates including rings of 3–8 SiO2 units, the cyclosilicates), sheet (honeycomb pattern of hexagonal rings, or phyllosilicates), and framework silicate (complex 3D or tectosilicates). The last category includes the quartz group (minerals that are just (SiO2)x) and zeolites (crystals containing large pores that are typically occupied by cations). Figure 2b shows how the cube is a subunit in one zeolite structure called ACO.9

Condensation of aqueous silicic acid is slow under conditions of 20°C, 1 atm, and neutral pH. In a system with only silica and water, equilibrium of dissolved monomers with a condensed (amorphous) silica phase can take months to establish. A low-concentration system without a condensed phase produces few dimers,10 and the amount of dimer increases with pressure.[11] and [12] In a concentrated potassium silicate solution, Harris et al found 11 distinct oligomers via 29Si-NMR analysis,8 and oligomers containing up to 12 Si atoms have been identified.13 Polymerization is favored by low temperatures, high Si concentration, and low alkalinity.[14] and [15] Catalysis of polymerization by other solutes can be dramatic and will be addressed in the next section. Depolymerization and interconversion of silicate species occurs slowly at 20°C, so for practical purposes most silicate polymers can be considered to be ‘stable’ over a time frame of hours or longer.

When a sample is succussed, it is subjected to a series of brief intense shocks during which the pressure jumps for perhaps a millisecond to hundreds and probably thousands of atmospheres. Our premise is as follows. The first few succussion strokes agitate the glass walls by mechanical action and generate a saturated or supersaturated solution of silicic acid. During later succussion strokes, the momentary high-pressure shifts the equilibrium for silicic acid in favor of condensation, and polymers form. (Demangeat et al2 reported a mean Si concentration of 6 ppm for their remedies, near the solubility limit for quartz,7 with certain remedies showing consistently higher concentrations than others. Our laboratory obtained Si concentrations of 1.3 to 4.0 ppm in succussed solutions [unpublished data]. These measurements are obtained after a remedy has had some time to “settle” in its glass vial so there could be higher concentrations during and immediately after the succussion strokes.) We will later discuss how, in remedies, specific condensation patterns might be catalyzed. As the high-pressure abates, the polymers remain as polymers.

(There is also some evidence that succussion may cause larger silica units as well as Si(OH)4 to enter solution.16 We have unpublished light-microscopy and EM observations from our laboratory that indicate relatively large particles in succussed solutions. Although these are possibly due to condensation of silica units during the sample preparations, it is also likely that some large particles exist immediately after succussion.)

The ‘silica hypothesis’ for homeopathy states that remedies differ from succussed water controls and from each other, in the structure (not primarily in the quantity) of their dissolved silicates. At this point we lack experimental evidence to be more specific, but the differences could include the distribution of polymer sizes, the degree of arborization (Q3 and Q4 vs Q2), the frequency of specific motifs like 6R or D5R, or quite specific long-range patterns in larger units such as particular crystalline or zeolite forms. Characteristics such as these would be stable enough to last for at least a few minutes at ambient temperature and pressure while a remedy was being transferred to begin the next potency, or while being transferred onto lactose pellets (which would absorb the water and cease any further hydrolysis or condensation) for clinical use. In a glass bottle that would provide a baseline Si(OH)4 concentration, these ‘identifying characteristics’ of a remedy could quite possibly last for days or months, though we would expect it eventually to degrade.

Interestingly, the fact that liquid remedies are normally kept for long-term storage in 87% ethanol rather than plain water might help their stability. Hydrolysis consumes H2O, so hydrolysis incurs a higher free energy cost in hygroscopic ethanol than in water. Ethanol should slow the degradation of the ‘information’ in dissolved silicate structures, though the formation of some ethoxysilicates might be expected instead.17

Generation and perpetuation of remedy-specific silicates

Having seen how the silica hypothesis could address the first challenge, viz. the thermodynamic stability of a remedy’s ‘information’ encoded in its silicate structures, let us turn to the third challenge: generation of remedy-specific information. How feasible is it that components in the original MT could direct or catalyze remedy-specific silicate structures?

This turns out to be extremely feasible. An extensive literature already documents the capacity for both organic and inorganic solutes to direct the condensation of silicic acid into solute-specific patterns.18 Indeed, this capacity is the basis for numerous natural and commercial processes to generate specific silicate and organosilicate structures. We will review only a small part of this literature, emphasizing its relevance to pattern initiation in low-potency remedies.

For inorganic solutes, Kinradet and Pole 19 observed effects of metal cations on silicate condensation. Paired cations facilitated the approach of the negatively charged silicates so that condensation could occur. Alkali metals from Na+ to Cs+ stabilized different oligomers, with Li+–H2O interactions further enhancing polymerization in the case of Li+. Tossell 20 has explained the role of fluoride ion F in promoting the formation of D4R cubes. A comparative study of substituted ammonium, NA4+, shows markedly different results depending on whether the alkyl group A is methyl, ethyl, or propyl.[13] and [21] If A is methyl the preference is for D4R, whereas ethyl makes D3R and propyl guides the formation of the zeolite ZSM-5 [22], [23] and [24] but does not make double rings.

Organic solutes can choreograph the production of highly specific crystalline (repetitive) silicates. Diatoms, single-celled plants that live inside a silicate coat called a frustule, ‘produce an enormous variety of biosilica structures’.25 The number of known species exceeds 20,000. The silica-condensing molecules are long-chain poly-amines (LCPAs) and modified proteins called silaffins, which generate the same species-specific structures from silicic acid solutions when used in vitro. [25] and [26] Working with LCPAs including spermine and spermidine, Belton et al27 determined that ‘chain length, intramolecular N–N spacing and C:N ratio of the additives’ was responsible for ‘the combination of unique catalytic effects and aggregation behaviours’ that determined the materials’ properties. Working with amino acid silicate solutions, Belton and coworkers found that 11 of the 20 amino acid residues ‘affect the kinetics of small oligomer formation, the growth of aggregate structures and the morphology and surface properties of the silicas produced’.28

Given this information, it is tempting to imagine that almost any inorganic or organic material could guide the formation of specific silicates. Focusing on plants, which are the source of the majority of remedies in clinical use, could the particular proteins or N-containing alkaloids in a plant account for plant-specific silicates appearing in remedies made from that plant? Obviously some compounds will be more effective than others at condensing silica, eg silaffins evolved specifically for that purpose. In a low-potency remedy like a diluted 3c being succussed to make a 4c, perhaps silicic acid ‘ignores’ most plant components while allowing particular ‘active ingredients’ to catalyze the relevant structures. It would be interesting if the silica-condensing ingredients were the same as the pharmacologically active ingredients. If so, it could explain why, say, the atropine in Belladonna plays the key role in determining the properties of potentized Bell, and it would suggest that remedy made from whole plant should be essentially identical to remedy made by starting with purified atropine. It is widely believed that the homeopathic remedies Bell and Atropinum have very similar clinical activity.

We should also express some notes of caution. While it is true that inorganic and organic solutes guide silicate formation, in many cases these solutes are incorporated into the final product, eg the cations occupy the pores in a zeolite, or organic matter remains embedded in the final silicate. Or, the concentration of ‘catalyst’ is comparable to that of silicate, eg, Belton et al28 used a 2:1 molar ratio of Si to amino acid. This poses a problem for the silica hypotheses. As the remedy becomes progressively more dilute, there is less and less catalytic material available. To our knowledge, the question of how low the solute concentrations can get, and still generate significant quantities of solute-specific silica structures, has never been studied. Nor is it known how a pulse of high pressure, as in succussion, would affect the process. For the silica hypothesis to work, it would be essential that some components of the MT act as true catalysts, yielding many structured silicates per molecule, and not become trapped in individual silicate complexes. Questions can also be raised about how far the specificity of the catalysts can extend. For example atropine and hyoscyamine are enantiamers, differing solely in their orientation at a single C locus, yet Bell and Hyos are considered to be rather different remedies. Most silicates that have been studied are achiral, but some, like trigonal quartz, can be chiral.

Let us turn now to the second challenge: perpetuation of the pattern after all of the MT has been diluted away. Let us assume that a 12c remedy sample contains a measurable population of remedy-specific silicates. What happens when that remedy is diluted 1:100 and succussed? The process can begin the same way: the early succussion strokes release silicic acid from the vial walls. However there is no catalyst to condense the silicic acid—or is there? Clearly we would require that the remedy-specific silicate polymers from the prior potency serve as the catalyst. Suppose the relevant structure in the 12c were nanocrystals of a particular zeolite. We would be saying that diluting this zeolite solution 1:100, adding silicic acid, and succussing, should generate more zeolite. Indeed, we would need to have about 100 times as much zeolite nanocrystal at the end of the succussion cycle, as we had just after the 1:100 dilution. If we do not amplify the active ingredient by a factor of 100 each time, then with subsequent dilutions the amount of structured silicate will soon diminish to zero.

How feasible is it to generate particular silicates from silicic acid, by using only a seed containing already-structured silicate, and then succussing? We admit this is the weakest point of the silica hypothesis, but it is not impossible. We propose four ways it could happen. First, some silica motifs may be inherently amenable to self-replication. Perhaps a double ring like D5R has a tendency to split (hydrolyze) into two single 5R rings when vigorously shaken, and perhaps the two resulting single rings have a tendency to attract a second layer of condensation, re-creating the double ring. If so, a single succussion stroke could double the amount of D5R, and repeated succussion strokes could amplify the amount of D5R as much as 100 times. This hypothetical process would be comparable to the polymerase chain reaction for DNA. Building on the DNA analogy, in addition to double rings we could imagine a double form of any flat linear or branched silicate polymer. As noted above, single and double chains are among the naturally occurring forms of silicate in minerals. (Some cycles could be allowed too but joined rings and highly branched topologies cannot be ‘doubled’ without introducing a lot of bond angle strain.) If the double form were to ‘unzip’ like DNA, and if each half were then to act as a template to re-create the double form, we would have a mechanism for preserving the structure from one potency to the next.

This idea also permits us to see a way that remedies might change gradually with potency. For instance, if the ‘replication’ described above were not 100% perfect, but instead there was a tendency for small but predictable changes to occur, then the 13c might be subtly different from the 12c, the 14c might be slightly changed from the 13c, and so on. By ‘small but predictable changes’ we mean things like lengthening a chain by one or two units or adding a short side-branch. Small changes could function like point mutations in DNA: alterations that leave the structure mostly unchanged, and do not interfere with the capacity for replication, but which would be inherited and maintained by subsequent dilution/succussion cycles. Small changes might occur with low probability but might accumulate over many cycles, like DNA mutations, to result in a noticeably different structure with different clinical benefits. This would fit with the conventional wisdom of homeopaths that a 12c and a 13c and a 14c are not much different, but with passage of enough cycles, the 200c and the 12c can be quite different.

Second, we have alluded to silica nanocrystals as the information-carrying component. Crystals are well known for acting as seeds that can extend their pattern as other molecular units crystallize onto them. Once a particular silica crystal pattern got started, could it grow more of its own pattern when added to a silicic acid solution and succussed? We would be saying that of the 200+ known zeolite structures, if tiny nanocrystals of one zeolite are added to silicic acid and succussed, the result would be 100 times as much of that very same zeolite. This strikes us as a priori unlikely, yet it might work for at least some zeolite or other crystalline forms. We doubt the question has ever been studied.

Third, an intriguing mechanism could involve transfer of information from the silicates to structure the water during succussion, and transfer of information back from the structured water onto silicate particles, which then ‘hold’ the information when the succussion pressure abates. Zeng and coworkers29 proposed such a mechanism when they studied the well known ‘memory effect’ of water. The ‘memory effect’ does not involve homeopathy: it says that a water sample that has been crystallized under pressure into a gas hydrate, and then melted, will more quickly re-form the clathrate hydrate structure when mixed with gas and re-pressurized, compared to a water sample that did not previously experience the hydrate state. Analysis of water samples with neutron scattering could not find any structural basis for a ‘memory effect’.30 When Zeng and coworkers discovered that low concentrations of certain ice nucleation inhibitors could destroy the memory effect, they inferred that the effect was due to small impurity particles that received the ‘imprint’ of the clathrate state and, by holding that imprint long after melting and degassing, supplied a template for rapid nucleation back to the clathrate state.

Quoting Zeng et al, the memory effect ‘must be ascribed to an alteration of the surface states of the impurity particles that amplifies their nucleating action. This could occur because of an imprinting of the surface of the impurities by the growth of a hydrate crystal on the particle surfaces. For instance, if the impurities are hydrated or hydroxylated silicon or iron oxides, a hydrate crystal may well alter the surface geometry so that when the hydrate melts, the surface is now a better nucleator of hydrate than it was during the first nucleation cycle’ (emphasis added). They are explicitly postulating that silicate particles could be the information carriers that cause water, when pressurized, to form a particular pattern, and that the pattern could imprint other silicate particles. We are not proposing that water forms a momentary clathrate hydrate during succussion, but there could be other structural alterations. These alterations could start at (be nucleated by) silicate particles, could spread throughout the sample, and then imprint other silicate particles throughout the sample. The result would be an amplification, conceivably by the needed factor of 100, of the specific surface pattern on silica particles. Although the structural change in the water would be lost when the pressure returns to 1 atm, the information would persist in the silica surface changes. This explanation works best if silica is released into solution as nanoparticles, rather than as monomeric silicic acid, when agitated during succussion.

Fourth, if we postulate that silica surface carries the information, could the glass vial wall itself be that carrier? Some commercial remedies are prepared by the Korsakoff method. In this method, a single vial is used, and dilution is achieved by decanting most of the liquid and then refilling. Then the vial is succussed. A thin layer of water that wets the inside vial walls stays there when most of the liquid is decanted. This layer is estimated to be about 1% of the vial volume; so subsequent refilling accomplishes the 1:100 dilution. Asay and Kim31 found that water adsorbing onto glass at 20°C forms a three-molecule thick layer of ice. The pattern of the water adjacent to the glass will certainly be affected by alterations in the glass surface. Once a pattern is established on the vial walls, subsequent Korsakoff cycles might do nothing or might slowly alter the pattern. In order to transmit this information after the final potency is removed, however, it would have to contain some imprinted silica particles as well.

Experiments to test the silica hypothesis

The silica hypothesis and its variants are amenable to experiment and measurement to verify or negate them. Its challenges are the low concentrations at which silicates occur, and the difficulty of teasing apart chemically similar oligomers or surface features. A starting point will be to measure the amount of monomeric and polymeric silicates in remedies, in succussed water, and in diluted remedies after 0, 2, 8, 20, and 40 succussion strokes (or any similar sampling sequence). Alexander et al6 successfully used a molybdic acid assay to measure the amount of monomeric silicate, while mass spectroscopy can provide the total Si content of a sample. Obviously we would want to repeat these measurements for several different types of glass vials, and for ethanol-water vs water for the solvent.

Raman spectroscopy and 29Si-NMR provide insight into the degree of polymerization of silicates. 29Si-NMR will tell us ratios among Qx loci. Assuming we see some consistent differences among remedies or between remedies and controls, we can use these methods to ask how well homeopathically relevant substances such as atropine can serve as silicate polymerizers, and whether their condensed silicate products have consistent and substance-specific properties. The protocol would be to add a known concentration of atropine to a silicic acid solution of known concentration (in plastic vial) and succuss. Electron microscopy of frozen and cracked samples or very thin frozen layers is one way to look for suspended silica nanoparticles and to examine their surface. If surface features seem to be the information-carrying aspect, we will ultimately need to develop assays that detect particular features. Such an assay might measure adsorption of particular molecules, or enhancement or stabilization of a particular enzyme.

If early experiments lead us to suspect that remedy-specific oligomers are the information-carrying ingredient, we will ultimately need to make remedies enriched in 29Si in order to identify them via 29Si-NMR. To make a vial out of 29SiO would be prohibitively expensive, but here is an alternative. Remedies could be made by succussing them in polypropylene vials, and silica could be added in the form of small (not, vert, similar1 mm diameter) recoverable beads. The total surface of the beads could be calculated to equal that of the vial (typically an 8-, 12-, or 20-ml vial). Beads would be strained away after the last succussion stroke. It would be an open question whether such beads can be immediately reused for another remedy or potency, or whether they would be ‘imprinted’ in some way that would carry information that could affect the next remedy made with them. If remedies made via ‘succuss with silica beads in plastic’ appear via 29Si-NMR to yield similar results to ‘succuss in glass,’ the idea would be to replace the beads with 29Si-enriched beads. Now, even that would get expensive when 95% 29SiO2 runs $3 to $5 per mg. But one could coat ceramic beads with melted 29SiO2 making a layer perhaps 10–30 μm thick. This would not require too much 29SiO2 and would allow us to simulate exposure to a 29SiO2 vial. All of the resulting silicate structures would then be 29SiO2-enriched. Note that only the potencies we intend to study would have to be made with the 29SiO2 beads.

Conclusion

The clichéd scientific objection to homeopathy is that it cannot work because ‘remedies have nothing in them chemically,’ besides water. The silica hypothesis turns this objection on its head. It declares that remedies made in glass do have something else in them chemically, namely silicates, and that the silicates are not irrelevant contaminants but meaningfully structured active ingredients. According to the hypothesis, succussion releases silicic acid monomers into the solution, which are then polymerized into remedy-specific patterns by catalytic action of MT components. For potencies above 12c, structured silicates themselves act as the catalysts or templates for perpetuation of the remedy-specific patterns. In a variant on the hypothesis, silica delaminates from the glass walls in the form of nanoparticles rather than Si(OH)4 monomers, and the information is carried via silica surface alterations.

In this brief overview of the silica hypothesis we have begun to ask how the hypothesis might be able to meet three physical chemistry challenges that any explanation for homeopathy will have to overcome. Silicates can indeed form a huge variety of distinct and thermodynamically stable (for minutes or longer) structures in aqueous solution. Organic and inorganic MT components can guide selective silicate pattern formation. Structured silica seeds may be able to direct the formation of more copies of themselves, and may be capable of slowly changing or ‘evolving’ over the course of repeated dilution-succussion cycles. Gradual ‘evolution’ of silicate properties would explain the widely believed-in gradual change in clinical properties of remedies as the potency is increased.

Our overview contains many ideas that are speculations and extrapolations, and where this is the case we have admitted it. Rather than argue these points, it seems wisest to begin to collect experimental evidence that will support or negate various claims and versions of the hypothesis.

References

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2 J.-L. Demangeat, P. Gries and B. Poitevin et al., Low-field NMR water proton longitudinal relaxation in ultrahighly diluted aqueous solutions of silica-lactose prepared in glass material for pharmaceutical use, Appl Magn Reson 26 (2004), pp. 465–481. View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

3 H. Walach, W.B. Jonas and J. Ives et al., Research on homeopathy: state of the art, J. Altern. Compl. Med. 11 (5) (2005), pp. 813–829. Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

4 C.M. Witt, R. Ludtke and T.E. Weisshuhn et al., The role of trace elements in homeopathic preparations and the influence of container material, storage duration, and potentisation, Forsch Komplementarmed 13 (2006), pp. 15–21. Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

5 R. Roy, W.A. Tiller, I. Bell and M.R. Hoover, The structure of liquid water; novel insights from materials research; potential relevance to homeopathy, Mat Res Innovat, 9–4 (2005), pp. 93–124.

6 G.B. Alexander, W.M. Heston and R.K. Iler, The solubility of amorphous silica in water, J Phys Chem 58 (1954), p. 453. Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

7 Iler RK, ed., The Chemistry of Silica, ch. 1 & 2 (pp. 3–171), Wiley, New York (1979).

8 R.K. Harris, C.T.G. Knight and W.E. Hull, Nature of species present in an aqueous solution of potassium silicate, J Amer Chem Soc 103 (1981), pp. 1577–1578. Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

9 Source: www.iza-structure.org/databases/.

10 R.H. Busey and R.E. Mesmer, Ionization equilibria of silicic acid and polysilicate formation in aqueous sodium chloride solutions to 300 °C, Inorg Chem 16 (10) (1977), p. 2444. Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

11 Manning CE. Polymeric silicate complexing in aqueous fluids at high pressure and temperature. In: Wanty RB, (ed.). Water–Rock Interaction I, Taylor & Francis, 2004; pp. 45–52.

12 N. Zotov and H. Keppler, Silica speciation in aqueous fluids at high pressures and high temperatures, Chem Geol 184 (2002), pp. 71–82. SummaryPlus | Full Text + Links | PDF (249 K) | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

13 W.M. Hendricks, A.T. Bell and C.J. Radke, Effects of organic and alkali metal cations on the distribution of silicate anions in aqueous solutions, J Phys Chem 95 (1991), pp. 9513–9518. Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

14 S.D. Kinradet and T.W. Swaddle, Silicon-29 NMR studies of aqueous silicate solutions. 1. Chemical shifts and equilibria, Inorg Chem 27 (1988), pp. 4253–4259.

15 X. Xue, J.F. Stebbins, M. Kanzaki, P.F. McMillan and B. Poe, Pressure-induced silicon coordination and tetrahedral structural changes in alkali oxide-silica melts up to 12 GPa: NMR, Raman, and infrared spectroscopy, Amer Mineral 76 (1991), pp. 8–26.

16 R.D. Ennis, R. Pritchard and C. Nakamura et al., Glass vials for small volume parenterals: influence of drug and manufacturing processes on glass delamination, Pharm Dev Technol 6 (3) (2001), pp. 393–405. View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

17 P.K. Jal, M. Sudarshan and A. Saha et al., Synthesis and characterization of nanosilica prepared by precipitation method, Colloids Surf A: Physicochem Eng Aspects 240 (2004), pp. 173–178. SummaryPlus | Full Text + Links | PDF (131 K) | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

18 A. Corma and M.E. Davis, Issues in the synthesis of crystalline molecular sieves: towards the crystallization of low framework-density structures, Chemphyschem 5 (3) (2004), pp. 305–313.

19 S.D. Kinradet and D.L. Pole, Effect of alkali-metal cations on the chemistry of aqueous silicate solutions, Inorg Chem 31 (1992), pp. 4558–4563.

20 Tossell JA, Calculation of 19F and 29Si NMR shifts and stabilities of F encapsulating silsesquioxanes, preprint.

21 R.F. Mortlock, A.T. Bell and C.J. Radke, Incorporation of aluminum into silicate anions in aqueous and methanoic solutions of TMA silicates, J Phys Chem 95 (1991), pp. 7847–7851. Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

22 S.L. Burkett and M.E. Davis, Mechanism of structure direction in the synthesis of Si-ZSM-5: an investigation by intermolecular 1H-29Si CP MAS NMR, J Phys Chem B 98 (1994), p. 4647. Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

23 Burkett SL, Davis ME, Mechanisms of structure direction in the synthesis of pure-silica zeolites. 1. Synthesis of TPNSJ-ZSM-5, 2. hydrophobic hydration and structural specificity. Chem Mater 1995; 7: 920-928, 1453-1463.

24 C.J.Y. Houssin, C.E.A. Kirschhock and P.C.M.M. Magusin et al., Combined in situ 29Si NMR and small-angle X-ray scattering study of precursors in MFI zeolite formation from silicic acid in TPAOH solutions, Phys Chem Chem Phys 5 (2003), pp. 3518–3524. Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

25 N. Poulsen, M. Sumper and N. Kröger, Biosilica formation in diatoms: characterization of native silaffin-2 and its role in silica morphogenesis, Proc Nat Acad Sci 100 (2003), pp. 12075–12080. Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

26 N. Poulsen and N. Kröger, Silica morphogenesis by alternative processing of silaffins in the diatom thalassiosira pseudonana, J. Biol Chem 279 (41) (2004), pp. 42993–42999. Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

27 D.J. Belton, S.V. Patwardhan and C.C. Perry, Spermine, spermidine and their analogues generate tailored silicas, J Mater Chem 15 (2005), pp. 4629–4638. Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

28 D.J. Belton, G. Paine, S.V. Patwardhan and C.C. Perry, Towards an understanding of (bio)silicification: the role of amino acids and lysine oligomers in silicification, J Mater Chem 14 (2004), pp. 2231–2241. Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

29 H. Zeng, L.D. Wilson, V.K. Walker and J.A. Ripmeester, Effect of antifreeze proteins on the nucleation, growth, and the memory effect during tetrahydrofuran clathrate hydrate formation, J Am Chem Soc 128 (2006), pp. 2844–2850. Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

30 P. Buchanan, A.K. Soper and J. Thompson et al., Search for memory effects in methane hydrate: Structure of water before hydrate formation and after hydrate decomposition, J Chem Phys 123 (2005), p. 164507. Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

31 D.B. Asay and S.H. Kim, Evolution of the adsorbed water layer structure on silicon oxide at room temperature, J Phys Chem B 109 (2005), pp. 16760–16763. View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

Corresponding Author Contact InformationCorresponding author. DJ Anick, Harvard Medical School, McLean Hospital, Centre Bldg 11, Belmont, MA 02478, USA.



Homeopathy
Volume 96, Issue 3, July 2007, Pages 189-195
The Memory of Water

Journal Club – “Conspicuous by its absence: the Memory of Water, macro-entanglement, and the possibility of homeopathy”

January 1st, 2000 by Ben Goldacre in journal club | 6 Comments »

This is part of the Homeopathy journal club project described here:

www.badscience.net/?p=490

doi:10.1016/j.homp.2007.05.002 How to Cite or Link Using DOI (Opens New Window)
Copyright © 2007 Elsevier Ltd All rights reserved. Conspicuous by its absence: the Memory of Water, macro-entanglement, and the possibility of homeopathy

L.R. Milgrom1, Corresponding Author Contact Information, E-mail The Corresponding Author
1Department of Chemistry, Imperial College London, Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2AZ, UK
Received 23 February 2007; revised 8 May 2007; accepted 14 May 2007. Available online 31 July 2007.

In order to fully comprehend its therapeutic mode of action, homeopathy might require both ‘local’ bio-molecular mechanisms, such as memory of water and ‘non-local’ macro-entanglement, such as patient–practitioner–remedy (PPR) descriptions.

Keywords: homeopathy; locality; non-locality; memory of water; macro-entanglement

Article Outline

Introduction
Locality, non-locality, and philosophy
Local hypotheses and the memory of water
Non-local hypotheses and macro-entanglement
Quantum theory and homeopathy
Entanglement in the homeopathic process
Conclusion: a therapeutic Uncertainty Principle?
Acknowledgements
References


Introduction

Despite increasingly sterile debates over ‘whether’ homeopathy works,1 the ‘how’ and ‘why’ have yet to be seriously addressed by science. One need not look far to see why.

Formerly a successful allergy researcher,2 Jacques Benveniste spent the last 20 years of his life out of the scientific mainstream because of his fascination with the ‘Memory of Water’.3 Despite democratic appearances, when it comes to dealing with what it considers ‘heretical’ (eg, homeopathy), science can be as narrow-minded, unforgiving, and vicious as any inquisition. Disregarding the burning stakes of peer opprobrium however, some are seeking answers to the question of how homeopathy might be possible.

Two types of hypothetical ‘mechanism’ are under consideration. Labelled ‘local’ and ‘non-local’, they depend, respectively, on conventional scientific positivism,4 or appeal to generalised quantum theoretical concepts of complementarity and entanglement.5 Local hypotheses envisage homeopathic remedies behaving in a way similar to any other medicine, ie, ‘pharmacologically’. The problem is that most homeopathic remedies are diluted out of molecular existence. In order therefore to comply with the causal principles of positivist science, a mechanism has to be envisaged by which some kind of information transfer (usually thought of as electromagnetic) can occur to a molecular substrate (eg, water), via homeopathy’s unique method of remedy production.6 Involving successive iterations of dilution followed by violent agitation collectively known as succussion, it is this information transfer to the solvent which has been called the Memory of Water (MoW).

Non-local hypotheses,7 are concerned less with the remedy per se, proposing generalised forms of quantum entanglement as the basis for homeopathy’s efficacy. They suggest instantaneous, acausal correlations are somehow established between various combinations of patient, practitioner, and remedy, ultimately leading to an observed change in the patient’s state of health. These ideas are in their infancy and even more controversial than MoW: indeed, to many the idea that quantum theory might be applicable in our macroscopic domain is anathema. The received conventional wisdom is that non-deterministic quantum theory describes the world of sub-atomic particles, atoms and molecules, while deterministic Newtonian (classical) and Einsteinian (relativistic) theories are sufficient for the macroscopic world of material objects. Non-local hypotheses however, have the advantage of being generalisable outside homeopathy to other healing disciplines.

The purpose of this paper is to review the two types of descriptions of homeopathy’s effects. Then, viewing these different approaches as complementary, not contradictory, and realising that some local explanations are also ‘tarred’ with the brush of entanglement (albeit at the molecular level), to consider how a more complete picture of the homeopathic process might be possible, ultimately leading to new experimental tests.

Locality, non-locality, and philosophy

Most, but by no means all, of science is based on a set of assumptions about the universe collectively known as Local Reality.8 This may be summed up as follows:

• The universe is real and things in it exist whether we observe them or not.
• It is legitimate to draw general conclusions and predictions from the outcome of consistent experiments and observations.
• No signal can travel faster than light.

This is very much a ‘common sense’ view of the universe as (a) it defines ‘reality’ as something obviously ‘out there’ separate and independent of us and (b) it is ‘local’ because parts of the universe out of speed of light contact cannot possibly be in communication. For most of the time, this assumption of Local Reality ‘works’: it is an accurate descriptive model of how most things in the universe interact. However, recent quantum physics experiments on photons, electrons, atoms, and even molecules demonstrate beyond doubt that particle interactions result in non-local correlations.8 This means that although there is no signal transfer in the classical sense between these particles, nevertheless, they can be instantaneously ‘connected’ over vast distances and across time itself, a phenomenon known as quantum entanglement.9 It is as if at a deep level, everything in the universe is instantaneously linked together in a vast holistic matter-energy network of interacting fields which transcends ordinary concepts of space and time. And we, composed of trillions of particles are an inseparable part of it: far from what reason seems to tell us.

The three Local Reality points above have been expanded into seven propositions, which are essentially ‘articles of faith’,10:

(1) The universe is consistent over all space and all time.
(2) The universe is understandable, ie, predictable.
(3) What is valid here is valid elsewhere.
(4) The universe is material and not spiritual.
(5) Everything that is physical is observable.
(6) The universe can be described and ascertained mathematically.
(7) Experiment validates theory.

This ‘catechism’ arises out of science’s primarily inductive logical structure. Philosophers have described two types of reasoning called deductive and inductive logic. In the former, one can draw true conclusions from true starting premises. For example, consider the following statements:

All swans are white.
The creature in front of us is a swan.
Ergo, from these two premises, we can conclude (especially if we choose not to look) that:
The creature is white.
With inductive logic however, we move from the particular to the general from premises about objects we have examined, towards conclusions about objects that we have not yet examined. Thus:
Every swan I have ever seen has been white; Ergo….
The next swan I see will be white.

What this simple example demonstrates is that many of our beliefs are based on extrapolations from observed (past or present) events to situations which are unknown, unobserved, or in the future. It was the 18th century philosopher Hume who pointed out that inductive reasoning is based on custom or habit, and in so far as it predicts the future will resemble the past, cannot actually ‘prove’ anything, for instance the impossibility of a swan being black. Hume also pointed out that the principle of induction cannot itself be proven by induction. The word ‘proof’, in fact, should be applied strictly only when reasoning deductively, as in mathematics. As most science is rooted in inductive logic, if follows that it too is predictive and actually incapable of proving or disproving anything.

In addition, Peirce drew attention to abduction which refers to the creative process prior to induction and deduction, by which scientists arrive at their initial hypotheses in the first place.11 It involves ordering disparate pieces of information into a first hypothetical structure and may be likened to pattern recognition: something humans seem particularly good at. Reductionist scientific theories generally overlook or are incapable of considering the process of abduction.

So what tends to happen in practice is that the more often a premise’s predictions turn out to are fulfilled, the more it is taken as ‘proof’ that the premise must be true. Eventually, the ‘truth’ of the premise becomes ingrained: it changes from ‘Every swan I have ever seen has been white’ to ‘All swans are white.’ From that moment, black swans are ‘impossible’.

Most people assume that science starts from secure reproducible observations out of which ‘facts’ about the world are distilled, an ideal enshrined in logical positivism. Its core beliefs are that scientific questions can be answered completely objectively; that experiments allow scientists to compare theory directly with facts; and that science is a sure route to ‘truth’. In this respect, it is scientifically established ‘evidence’ that is now supposed to provide the only basis for the ‘facts’ on which medical decisions are to be based, regardless of practitioners’ empirical ‘hands on’ experience and intuition.[12] and [13]

However, since the second half of the 20th century, logical positivism has been under sustained attack as being too simplistic from Post-Modernist philosophies of science.14 There is no such thing as unbiased observation free of any sociological or cultural conditioning, even in science and even under the most stringent experimental circumstances. Therefore, our acceptance or rejection of ‘evidence’ is also open to serious question. Our tendency is to reject evidence which does not fit with currently-held theory. Consequently, positive results from even the highest standard scientific trials are rejected by those who will not accept homeopathy’s claim that remedies diluted out of molecular existence might have any effect. For black swans, read homeopathy.

Kant, in the 18th century, pointed out that observation depends on our individual senses, assumptions, and background beliefs.15 He suggested that our picture of the world is structured by a combination of sensory data (‘phenomena’) and fundamental concepts of reason, eg, ‘causation’, that are culturally ‘hardwired’ into our minds. Consequently, we cannot know anything about how the world ‘really is’. Recent interpretations of quantum theory16 take this idea further by suggesting there is no world ‘out there’ separate from and independent of our observation of it. Or even more starkly, information is all there is.

Local hypotheses and the memory of water

Benveniste did not coin the phrase ‘Memory of Water’ (MoW), as research into solvent effects dates back to the 1960s. However, his research was highlighted by Nature in 1988,3 and subsequent failed attempts to repeat it.17 A multi-centre European trial involved modifications to Benveniste’s original method (eg, the use potentised histamine instead of anti-IgE), and was statistically significant only on pooling the results from all the laboratories involved.18 Though still controversial, MoW is based on the same conventional scientific notions of atoms and molecules that inform chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology. I shall deal with this on a general basis only as excellent and more detailed contributions will be found in this issue from Anick, Chaplin, Elia, Rey, Rao and others.

As Albert Szent-Gyorgyi pointed out, ‘Water is the mater and the matrix, the mother and the medium of life.’4 Without water, life as we know it would be impossible. Yet, water is more complex than the simple chemical formula H2O suggests. Oxygen, at the top of Group 16 in the Periodic Table, is a gas while the other members of this column (sulphur, selenium, and tellurium) are solids. With the di-hydrides of these elements we notice another major difference. H2S, H2Se, and H2Te, are highly toxic, inflammable, evil-smelling gases, while H2O is a clear, tasteless, odourless, life-giving and sustaining liquid (see Table 1). This is due to electrical forces originating within the oxygen atom. Apart from establishing the main chemical bonds between each oxygen and two hydrogen atoms, they also give rise to extra more complex forms of weak bonding (hydrogen bonds and even weaker van de Waal’s interactions). At room temperature these loosely bind individual water molecules into large rapidly-changing (in the order of pico-seconds) dynamic ‘structures’ (Fig. 1).4 These, in turn influence interactions between chemical and biochemical entities.

Table 1.

Some physical constants for dihydrides of the Group 16 elements

Compound Molar mass (g/mol) Melting point (°C) Boiling point (°C) H2O 18 0 100
H2S 34 −85.5 −59.55
H2Se 81 −65.73 −41.25
H2Te 130 −49 −2


Display Full Size version of this image (19K)

Fig. 1. Molecular models of water: (a) shows a so-called ‘space-filling’ model and a representation of the electronic charge distribution over the water molecule. The green-to-pink envelope represents the distribution of electrical charge within the molecule, biased towards the oxygen atom. In (b), we see the more classical ‘ball and stick’ model. The red ball represents the oxygen atom while the white balls represent hydrogen atoms, the white spheres without inscribed ‘H’s’ are hydrogen-bonded hydrogen atoms from a neighbouring (unseen) water molecule: the short white ‘sticks’ between the balls represent static chemical bonds between hydrogen and oxygen atoms. In (c), we see a representation of how water molecules might loosely bind to each other via hydrogen bonding (the longer white sticks) to form a coherent but short-term structure.20

Adopting a theatrical metaphor, if nucleic acids, proteins, carbohydrates, lipids and hormones, etc are the principal ‘actors’ in the unfolding biochemical ‘drama’ that is life at the molecular level, then water provides the stage, set, theatre, and direction. From this perspective, it could be that conventional bio-medicine places too much emphasis on bio-molecules at the expense of the solvent in which they perform. Because of individual patterns of electrically charged and neutral atomic constituents, each type of bio-molecule will have associated with it an ever-changing ‘halo’ of loosely bound and interconnected water molecules.19 At the charged sites on each bio-molecule, water molecules will congregate, while few water molecules gather at the neutral sites. Thus, electric fields generated by bio-molecules will be modified and modulated by their surrounding ever-changing but coherent ‘halo’ of water molecules, and this could be transmitted extremely rapidly partly via water’s rapidly switching network of interconnecting hydrogen bonds, throughout the whole solvent and received by other bio-molecules.

There is much about water yet to be discovered, so that even if scientific attention were to shift away from bio-molecules to their aqueous medium, the experimental and theoretical problems would be enormous. For example, within a single cell, there are huge differences in the water content and properties of its various parts, from the jelly-like consistency of the cytoplasm, to the more fluid content of vacuoles. Modelling such diversity is likely to be a computational nightmare.19 However, modelling water itself shows that its molecules can form short-term coherent ‘structures’, whose life is of the order of pico-seconds (10−12 s) similar to icosahedra (Fig. 2) around central cavities that may contain, or may have once contained solute species.20 From here, it is not hard to imagine that such dynamic aqueous ‘structures’ could be the bearers of a ‘memory’ of things once dissolved but now dissolved out.


Display Full Size version of this image (82K)

Fig. 2. Two coherent icosahedral water ‘structures’ formed from dynamic hydrogen bonding between water molecules. These diagrams represent ‘snapshots’ and are not meant to depict long-term chemical structures.20

Using chemical terminology, MoW might be considered a supra-molecular phenomenon involving many water molecules. This means that MoW would be an emergent dynamic property of bulk liquid water (ie, involving many trillions of water molecules: in other words, the whole is more than the sum of its individual molecular parts). This would defy explanation in terms of the usual ideas of static chemical bonds and purely additive behaviour between individual water molecules alone. Certainly water molecules’ ability to dynamically switch hydrogen bonding to each other would be of crucial importance here, as are other weak intermolecular interactions (eg, van de Waal’s forces). Chaplin gives a compelling description of this behaviour on his website.20

Sceptics often quote the laws of thermodynamics as grounds for the impossibility of MoW. They are correct if one attempts to understand MoW effects in terms of a system at thermodynamic equilibrium. However, the principles of equilibrium thermodynamics cannot explain what happens to a system far from equilibrium, especially at what are called critical points. These are temperatures and pressures where, for example, a gas is just about to liquefy. In this critical state, a gas is much denser than under normal equilibrium conditions. It remains as a single phase system but is exquisitely sensitive to even the slightest externally-induced fluctuations, which can cause separation into gaseous and liquid phases.

Now, highly metastable far-from-equilibrium critical states develop patterns of chaos and self-similarity better described by Prigogine’s seminal work on non-equilibrium thermodynamics than by classical thermodynamics. Such states occur during the chemical reactions within living cells.21 Hankey has presented a plausible hypothesis that might help explain MoW effects in terms of such critical points acting as local dynamic attractors of a system. This led him to a novel model of the life force, capable of predicting the correct relationship between it and cure in several systems of complementary medicine, including homeopathy.22

The key to such models is the recognition that fluctuating instabilities at critical points necessarily exist in quantum form, and require quantum descriptions to predict their effects. It turns out these quantised instability fluctuations can serve the highly unusual function of ‘lifting’ quantum properties out of their confinement within the microscopic domain of atoms and molecules, and into our macroscopic world of bulk material properties. Under these exceptional circumstances, macroscopic systems may exhibit similar properties to microscopic quantum systems, such as coherence, and this has been observed and recognised with low-temperature superconductors and super-fluids.23

Interestingly, support for the MoW concept has come recently from the field of materials science.24 Using a large interdisciplinary research base, Roy et al examined the structures of many non-crystalline, inorganic, covalently-bonded condensed liquid phases, including liquid water. They predicted that at ambient conditions, typical samples of water likely contain many dynamic water structures. These consist of a statistical mixture of single water molecules (monomers) and different-sized water molecule clusters (oligomers), the largest consisting of several hundred H2O units. From this, they arrived at the important conclusion that it is solution structure not solution composition which is important in determining the plausibility of MoW effects. From the materials science perspective, although an ultra-diluted solution (where the solution is diluted out of existence) up having the same composition as the original solvent water, their structures could be entirely different.

In quantum physics there is also support for the MoW concept. For example, Smith has for many years argued for electromagnetic coherence and memory effects in water.25 While Del Guidici et al predicted that given a large enough number of water molecules (of the order of 1015–1017, an amount visible to the naked eye), the sum total of all the hydrogen-bonded interactions between the water molecules could, under the right circumstances, lead to a dynamic, rapidly fluctuating yet correlated state where they all resonate together, spontaneously organising themselves into so-called ‘coherent domains’.26 Del Guidice et al went on to show that such dynamic and correlated ‘coherent domains’ could not only be triggered by homeopathy’s potentisation process (ie, serial dilution and strong agitation), but that they would survive removal of all trace of the original dissolved substance. In other words, a possible theoretical mechanism for MoW effects exists and fits neatly with Roy et al‘s conclusions on the importance of solution structure over composition.

Critics of MoW incorrectly assume that that the physical and chemical properties of a solution are not dependent on its history. Samal and Geckler have reported such historical dependence in a series of experiments, using solutions of a wide variety of substances including common salt, starch and DNA at different non-homeopathic dilutions.27 This work demonstrated that molecules of a substance aggregate on dilution rather than getting further apart as common sense might suggest. Also, the size of these molecular aggregates relates to the starting concentrations of the original solute: in other words, they show an historical dependence.

In a completely different field, Rey obtained thermoluminescence data from highly agitated ultra-high dilutions of lithium and sodium chloride, suggesting reproducible differences from pure water diluted with itself.28a However, replication of this study by van Wijk though to some extent reproducing Rey’s original findings, failed to show statistical significance until the solutions had been standing for several weeks prior to obtaining thermoluminescence data.28b This could suggest the possibility of the data being artefactual as a result of the D2O used in the experiments leaching traces of silica from the glassware. Such silica leaching artefacts have previously been noted in high-dilution experiments.29 However, Elia has obtained thermodynamic and conductivity data which strongly suggest that the process of sequential dilution and succussion is capable of permanently modifying many of the structural features of water. Elia concludes that, thermodynamically speaking, such systems are far from equilibrium and capable of self-organising themselves as a result of only small perturbations, confirming Roy et al‘s conclusions.30

It is perhaps sufficient to say that an explanation for the efficacy of highly diluted homeopathic remedies within the ‘local’ paradigm of the molecular sciences, though difficult is not as improbable as homeopathy’s critics claim.

Non-local hypotheses and macro-entanglement

In which case, why bother with quantum theoretical non-local hypotheses? Simply because deterministic local hypotheses could have the effect of confining attention to the medicine as the sole therapeutic agent, at the expense of the perhaps equally important contextual dynamics of the patient–practitioner relationship. Having said that, it is worth pointing out that some local explanations of homeopathy’s effects, eg Del Guidice et al and their concept of ‘coherent domains’ of water molecules moving in some correlated fashion, are strongly suggestive of entanglement at the molecular level.26 Consequently, it is worth remembering that the sections in this paper headed ‘local hypotheses’ and ‘non-local hypotheses’ are not intended to suggest that they are mutually contradictory. On the contrary, it is far more likely that both will be required in order to fully explain homeopathy’s effectiveness: a prediction consistent with the complementary nature of quantum theory.

Biomedicine takes little account of patient individuality or therapeutic context. From this point of view, perhaps the time has come for the discussion of homeopathy (indeed of all therapeutic modalities) to move out of the narrow confines of deterministic biomedicine. Theoretical models need to be developed that more fully encompass and make sense of its experiences, while at the same time not losing sight of the ‘local’ importance of the medicine. But why invoke non-local explanations based in something as seemingly exotic as quantum theory? How could it possibly apply to ‘macroscopic’ objects, especially people? And does not that play right into the hands of sceptics who accuse homeopaths of clutching at ill-understood scientific straws so that they can justify the patently unjustifiable? It is probably worth noting that homeopathy’s sceptics do not have a monopoly on the understanding or indeed misunderstanding of quantum theory. As the Nobel-pzrize winning physicist Richard Feynman once famously remarked, ‘Anyone who thinks they have understood quantum theory has probably got it wrong!’31 For example, a common assumption is that quantum theory and its implications apply only within the confines of particle physics, not in our macroscopic world.

It is true quantum theory’s algebraic language is dominated by an incredibly small number called Planck’s constant (6.626×10−34 J s), commensurate with observations and measurements of events occurring at the sub-atomic through to the molecular domains. However, it turns out that one of the strangest outcomes of quantum theory—the notion of entanglement—need not be size-limited.32 Entanglement is said to occur when the parts of a system are so holistically matched, measurement of one part of the system instantaneously (ie, not limited by the speed of light) provides information about its other parts, regardless of their separation in space and time.9 What is important is whether the elements of the system are correlated (ie, act as one coherent indivisible whole), and whether such a system’s processes can be described using a ‘non-commuting algebra of complementary observables’.33 This means when two separate operations of observation are performed sequentially, the overall result depends on the sequence and what is being measured. This is readily understood when considering a set of operations involved in, say, cooking. Here the operational sequence is paramount, for in a different order, instead of a tasty meal, one is likely to end up with any number of disagreeable and inedible offerings. Expanding on this concept leads to another key idea from quantum theory: complementarity.31

Thus, a single explanation or model might not adequately explain all the different observations that can be made on a quantum system. For example, in order to explain how electrons are diffracted when they strike the atoms in a crystal lattice, it is necessary to assume that each electron behaves as a wave. However, when considering the photoelectric effect and electrons being expelled from a solid when struck by photons of the right energy, it is necessary to assume that the electrons and the photons are behaving as particles. This results in the well-known apparent contradiction of particle-wave duality. The point is, in order to fully explain quantum phenomena it is necessary to have two different but complementary concepts. It is almost as if the answer one obtains on performing the two observations depends entirely on how the (experimental) question is asked; and both are necessary in order to acquire a complete picture of a quantum process or system.

But notions of complementarity and entanglement have implications far beyond the specific meaning ascribed to them in the orthodox quantum theory of particles, atoms and molecules. Using less formal approaches, examples have been cited from engineering, the cognitive sciences, especially psychology, and philosophy.5 Atmanspacher et al took the radical approach of developing a more generalised version of quantum theory which relaxes several of orthodox quantum theory’s axioms, including dependence on Planck’s constant. Called Weak Quantum Theory (WQT),5 it differs from orthodox quantum theory in that:

• Complementarity and entanglement are not restricted by a constant like Planck’s constant.
• WQT has no interpretation in terms of probabilities.
• Complementarity and indeterminacy are epistemological in origin not ontological.

As a result, WQT explicitly allows quantum theory’s application into such macroscopic areas as philosophy, psychology and information dynamics and into possible explanations of the dynamics of healing.

Quantum theory and homeopathy

Classical physics and quantum physics differ in an important respect. The former enshrines common sense, for everything considered physical is observable and therefore measurable: this is the leitmotif for all reductionist science and underpins the whole of biomedicine. However, in quantum physics this is not always be the case: not everything considered physical is observable or measurable.33 So, in quantum physics, there is the concept of the wave function which is not a directly observable entity as such: only its effects are. A wave function is considered to be a multi-dimensional descriptor of a system’s state, whose existence may only be inferred from the observable effects it produces in our ‘reality’.

The reason for this is not because of any fault in measurement; it depends on the mathematical language we use to describe those measurements. Thus, measurement of a quantum state, as with any experiment, provides data in the form of what are called real numbers, eg, the numbers we use everyday like 1, 2, −6, π e, 1/2, √2, etc. But because mathematicians and physicists think in many more than four dimensions, they need a much more versatile number system. And in mathematics, the real numbers are seen as a special case of much larger number sets. One of these is called the complex numbers,34 used to fully describe the multi-dimensionality of quantum states in a way that the real numbers cannot. Complex numbers are irreducible aggregates of real numbers and ‘imaginary’ numbers, based on √-1, which cannot be understood in terms of real numbers.

Real numbers are part of the larger set of complex numbers but not vice versa. Trying to fit a state or a system whose full description requires complex numbers into the real number set is like trying to squeeze a three-dimensional cube into a two-dimensional plane: it does not fit and some information invariably gets lost, notably in this case, the cube’s three dimensionality. It is a similar loss of information in trying to make sense of a quantum state’s complex number description by translating it into the real numbers of hard data, that leads to much of what is considered to be ‘quantum weirdness’.33

The consequences of the quantum description of reality for our view of the universe are profound. Ultimately it means relinquishing any notion of knowledge of things ‘out there’, ‘in themselves’, separate from our observation of them. We have to come to terms with the unsettling fact that in quantum theory, like the parts of a complex number, the observer and the observed are intimately and irreducibly connected. But what is it about quantum theory that could resonate with homeopathy and other forms of complementary and alternative medicine (CAMs)?

In homeopathy and other CAMs there is a notion of an all-pervading vital force (Vf) which strives to hold the whole organism in balance.35 However, this Vf is not a directly observable entity: like the wave function in quantum theory, it is observed only indirectly through the effects it produces, in this case the patient’s state of health. Thus, through this descriptive similarity of wave function and Vf, there is a similarity in discourse between quantum physics and homeopathy and other CAMs which include a concept of Vf. Perhaps quantum theory’s language of non-commuting operations, non-locality and entanglement could be used to describe the homeopathic process.36

Entanglement in the homeopathic process

There are several ways ideas derived from quantum theory can be used to describe the homeopathic process which may be ordered nominally in terms of the complexity of entanglement between different types of entities.7c Space limitations do not allow for their detailed consideration here, but see Weingaertner’s contribution in this issue on possible non-local correlations between the different particles of solvent and solute.37 Weingaertner’s model attempts to understand the homeopathic process solely in terms of the potentised medicine as a pharmacologically-active substance, so only one type of entity is considered (Fig. 3).


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Fig. 3. Diagrammatic representation of ‘sequential box’ model. It proposes the theoretical possibility of keeping a constant volume of mother tincture physically present in every potency. MT=mother tincture; 1×=ten times bigger box 9/10ths full of solvent into which MT is poured and succussed, and so on into 2X….NX.37

Walach’s semiotic model combines WQT with two-way entanglement (Fig. 4) between the patient and the remedy,[7b] and [38] while Hyland has developed a two-way patient–practitioner entanglement model called Extended Network Entanglement Theory.39 In the entanglement metaphors I am developing (Fig. 5), three-way patient, practitioner, remedy (PPR) entanglement is considered.7 These are based on ideas derived from Greenberger–Horne–Zeilinger three-way entanglement of particles,40 and quantum field theory.41


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Fig. 4. Walach’s double entanglement model. Two semiotic processes linked by the Law of Similars. On the left, object=the remedy substance, Rphi; sign=remedy, Rx; meaning=remedy picture, Sx. On the right, object=the patient’s ‘disease’, Dx; sign=the patient’s symptoms, Sx; meaning=the required remedy, Rx.[7b] and [38]


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Fig. 5. PPR entanglement represented geometrically. In (a), Walach’s two semiotic triangles for remedy and patient (also wave functions, ψRx and ψPx) are joined by a third for the practitioner ψPr, which are entangled into the PPR ‘state’ represented by ψPPR in (b). The multi-dimensional geometry of this state is represented in (c)–(e) and shows the action of the homeopathic operator Πr in ‘reflecting’ this state (d). But the reflection is not passive: by opening out the polyhedra in (d) and superimposing them, it is seen that the reflecting plane also twists the reflection through 60° (e). The ‘space’ in which these wave functions and ‘operations’ take place is a therapeutic state space created by the homeopathic operator Πr, which also functions within it.[7] and [42]

Here, the homeopathic process is regarded as a set of non-commuting complementary observations made by the practitioner. These are local (observations of the patient) and global (observations of the practitioner’s own inner state, how that fluctuates during the consultation, and the state of the patient–practitioner relationship), resulting in the prescription of an homeopathic medicine. Patient, practitioner, and remedy comprise therefore a three-way entangled therapeutic entity, so that attempting to isolate any of them ‘collapses’ the entangled state,42 represented geometrically in Fig. 5.

In addition, the Vf may be envisaged as observable only from the amount and severity of the observed signs and symptoms it produces. From this, it is possible to construct a mathematical metaphor for the Vf as a multi-dimensional quantised gyroscope (Fig. 6).43 The slower the Vf gyroscope ‘spins’, the less upright it stands against the braking effects of disease: it begins to ‘wobble’, or, in this metaphor, to express symptoms. Conversely, the therapeutic remedy increases the Vf’s spin rate, throwing off the disease. Thus remedies and diseases may be understood as accelerating and braking ‘torques’ acting on the Vf gyroscope.43


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Fig. 6. Schematic of the Vf gyroscope: a real gyroscope in 3-D space precesses around the z-axis sweeping out gradually increasing ‘orbits’ in the xy plane. The metaphorical Vf gyroscope precesses in fixed quantised ‘orbits’ as shown and the y and z axes are complex. Symptoms are observed along the real x-axis. Thus, the Vf only ‘appears’ when it expresses symptoms in real space and time, represented by the x-axis in the figure.43

Mathematically, Vf, diseases, and remedies can be represented as ‘wave functions’ (without yet specifying the ‘particles’ involved or ‘interactions’ between them), leading to the prediction that the more potent a remedy, the greater its effect on the Vf. At very low potencies, when a homeopathic medicine is used in a material dose as in conventional medicine, the gyroscopic metaphor approximates in such a way as to deliver predictions about the lack of therapeutic efficacy of highly-diluted homeopathic remedies in line with those of conventional medicine.44

In other words, the Vf gyroscope metaphor may be pointing towards a more inclusive paradigm about the effects of remedies that contains both homeopathy and conventional medicine and explains their apparent contradictions. In this sense, the metaphor could be said to parallel theoretical developments in conventional science, where new theories supersede older ones, yet generally include them. Perhaps it suggests that conventional medicine is a smaller subset of a much broader holistic paradigm that includes homeopathy.

Conclusion: a therapeutic Uncertainty Principle?

One application of the PPR entanglement metaphor I have described is to provide a rationale for why RCTs of homeopathy often return equivocal results.45 It suggests the double blind RCT ‘collapses’ the three-way patient–practitioner–remedy entangled state in a way analogous to that by which observation collapses a particle’s wave function in the Copenhagen Interpretation of orthodox quantum theory.46 Thus, while unobserved, a particle exists in an indeterminate state; its evolution in time expressed as a wave function. Observation causes the wave function to ‘collapse’ to a particle whose complementary position and momentum are related via Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. The profound meaning of this is that the act of observation in part creates that which is observed. Or, even more starkly, “The price of knowledge is the loss of an underlying ontological physical reality”.47 In a similar way, the observational procedure of the RCT may ‘collapse’ the three-way entangled state, leading to the loss of the underlying homeopathic effect, a therapeutic equivalent of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.

But some trials of non-individualised homeopathic remedies have generated positive results.45 This could be due to some surviving relic of entanglement from the production process, ironically as a result of a water memory effect. The work of del Guidice et al mentioned earlier, suggested the formation of ‘coherent domains’ within water’s dynamic hydrogen-bonded ‘structure’.26 Such mass correlation over huge numbers of water molecules suggests a form of molecular entanglement.

The tantalising prospect emerges that there could be several levels of entanglement operating during the homeopathic process: the molecular (created during production of the homeopathic medicine), contextually integrated into that occurring between patient, practitioner, and remedy.48 Consequently, although double-blind RCTs on non-individualised homeopathic remedies rule out the possibility of over-arching three-way PPR entanglement, the residual molecular entanglement built into the remedy via water memory effects could survive, explaining the positive effects observed in many homeopathic clinical trials.

Ultimately, it will be necessary to find experimental protocols that demonstrate entanglement in the therapeutic process. This is not easy, but clues have been uncovered in double-blind homeopathic pathogenetic trials (HPTs, provings). Many HPTs have not been conducted in a double-blind placebo-controlled manner. After symptoms have been gathered, collation of the data allows a remedy picture to emerge, traditionally one of the central ‘pillars’ of homeopathy.49 In two recent double blind placebo-controlled provings, although there were differences in proving symptoms between remedy and placebo groups, there was also overlap or ‘leakage’ of symptoms between them.[49] and [50] Walach et al concluded that as a result of blinding, remedy and placebo groups had become entangled, another demonstration of a possible therapeutic Uncertainty Principle, perhaps? Interestingly, there has been some independent confirmation of this result recently by another research group,51 and an explanation couched in terms of the PPR entanglement metaphor.[45a] and [52]

Another approach might be to set up a therapeutic analogue of the famous Aspect experiments of the 1980s that demonstrated entanglement between photons.8 These experiments depended on the violation of Bell’s Inequalities (our ‘intuition’ based on local realism, makes predictions which differ markedly from those made by quantum mechanics: these predictions are enshrined in Bell’s Inequalities: if they are violated, then the predictions of quantum mechanics, e.g., entanglement, must be true and our intuition wrong). A way forward might be to use the much more general Information Theoretic Bell’s Inequalities—if local realism does not hold, then two systems must carry information inconsistent with the inequalities. The design of suitable experiments is currently being explored.53

In conclusion, what this all seems to be pointing to is that, far from being competing, contradictory explanations, ‘local’ MoW and ‘non-local’ contextually ‘entangled’ effects (like wave-particle duality in orthodox quantum theory) could be complementary and both are necessary in order to make sense of homeopathy’s effects.

Acknowledgements

I thank Bill Scott, Kate Chatfield and Professor Harald Walach for introducing me to the consolations of philosophy.

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Corresponding Author Contact InformationCorresponding to: Department of Chemistry, Imperial College London, Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2AZ, UK.



Homeopathy
Volume 96, Issue 3, July 2007, Pages 209-219
The Memory of Water